Yesterday I attended a talk by Dr. Mike Lara called “The Pharmacy in Your Kitchen: An Overview of Medical and Medicinal Foods” (click here for his Facebook page). I thoroughly enjoyed hearing more about a very specific aspect of healthy eating and healthy aging called medical foods. Medical foods are an FDA-regulated product, often prescribed by doctors, derived from naturally occurring compounds, most often in plants. The ingredients are also found in the foods that we have in our kitchens.
One example that most of us know about is omega-3 fatty acids that are found in salmon, seaweed, nuts, and other products. We also know the health benefits of this for heart health and brain health. These essential fatty acids are needed for metabolism and improve heart health, reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, improve brain function and decrease inflammation. One medical food that offers the omega-3 fatty acids is called Vascazen and is prescribed to help treat patients with an omega-3 deficiency with cardiovascular disease.
Another example that is increasingly in the news involves the importance of probiotics. Science is showing us that we have a problem in our bodies, most particularly, our guts, with a lack of the microorganisms we need, helping us stay healthy, fighting off disease (click here for a short cartoon from NPR that illustrates this nicely). Scientists suspect that this has resulted from increasing C-sections rather than natural births because the infant is coated with the microorganisms on the way out of the birth canal, and overuse of antibiotics and sanitizers. The “medicine” for this is fermented foods such as yogurt!…or sauerkraut, kimchee, or kefir. The medical food is V.SL#3 and can help patients with ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.
As a psychotherapist, I am particularly interested in the science about the foods we eat and their impact on mood and cognition. The foods we eat have the nutrients needed to support the neurotransmitters; the chemical pathways of communication between the cells in our brains. I always encourage my clients towards changing eating habits as one part of a healthy lifestyle. The most recent example is when a client reduced sugar and caffeine intake resulting in a better nights sleep. Of course, his mood also improved as he noticed less irritability and a lessening of his depression.
It was also interesting to learn more about the brain chemistry that will happen to all of us as we age. The simple way to put it is that our brains shrink as we age. This can also be seen when patients suffer from cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. One of the biomarkers in these conditions is an elevated level of homocysteine. Research is showing promise in the use of the B-vitamins lowering the homocysteine levels and thus slowing and in some cases reversing cognitive decline.
The last slide of the day was my favorite quote from Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The presenter also extolled the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, and, in that vein, I’ll share a recent side dish that we had during our Italian style Sunday lunch. The speaker didn’t address the benefits of carrots, but I wanted to share this tasty and healthy way to get some Beta-carotene, vitamins A, K, and B6 and lesser amounts of many other vitamins and minerals. The recipe is from that New York Times (click here).
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- oregano and thyme
- heat oven to 400°
- slice carrots to the desired size, about 2-3 inches and in halves or quarters based on the desired thickness
- toss with olive oil
- place in pan or baking dish in a single layer
- salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano to taste
- cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes
- uncover and if not tender, reduce the temperature to 375° and cook another 10-15 minutes
- when ready adjust salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with parsley
We enjoyed these carrots with roasted lemon garlic chicken, pan roasted potatoes, and arugula.